The Monday after the Super Bowl was a quiet night for college basketball, which one can only hope gave our nation of expert armchair quarterbacks enough time to get the whining about a play call out of its collective system. (Why can’t we take a little more notice of the story of a humble rookie reserve from a Division II school making the play of his life, one of the greatest defensive plays in Super Bowl history?)
Beyond the NFL Patriots, though, the calm on the hoops front gives us a chance to look at the Patriot League, home to what is top to bottom the most competitive conference race in NCAA Division I, bar none. For those who think the college basketball regular season is meaningless…it’s a weak generalization anyways, but there’s no way it can be applied to this league.
American scored a 57-50 win at Holy Cross on Monday by overcoming a 10-point second half deficit, and with that game this 10-team conference is now ten games into its 18-game league schedule. The entire pack in the Patriot League is currently separated by a grand total of four games. Bucknell and surprising Colgate are tied for the top at 7-3, and then you have a five-team log jam for third. Take a breath now: American, Army, Lafayette, Lehigh and Loyola (Md.) are all tied at 5-5. Boston University and Navy are a game back of them at 4-6, with Holy Cross in the cellar at 3-7.
American’s win at Holy Cross actually served to spread out the conference pack. If the Crusaders had held serve at home, we would’ve had all ten teams separated by three games, including four at 5-5 and four more at 4-6, or eight teams separated by one game. One.
Also interesting to note is that Holy Cross was picked to finish second in the Patriot League preseason poll. Colgate was picked eighth. American was picked first; Bucknell was picked fifth. Furthermore, of the five games played this weekend from Friday through Monday, four were won by road teams. That’s how far all over the place the league is. Those trying to tab a favorite: good luck.
The conference John Feinstein once memorably chronicled in the book “The Last Amateurs” is one that gets it right with a double round-robin schedule. One can only wish more conferences would be so wise (and if it means shrinking to get there, so be it). Also of note: the entire Patriot League Tournament is contested at home sites, only adding to the importance of every position in the standings. If one is looking for a runaway winner, the Patriot is not for them, but it’s not hyperbole to say it looks like every single game in league play is going to be important the rest of the season. One can’t ask for any more than that.
- For those of us wondering how Virginia would respond after its first loss, the answer was: quite well. The Cavaliers went to North Carolina and took it to the Tar Heels in the second half for a 75-64 win. UVA looked every bit like a top 5 team and exposed the difference in toughness between these two squads.
- Kansas looked terrific again, beating Iowa State 89-76 in a game that wasn’t that close. Wayne Selden scored 20, one of five scoring in double figures. Frank Mason had zero points and seven assists in the first half, then scored 12 in the second half.
- An interesting February non-conference game saw Pittsburgh squeak by Bryant 72-67. Jamel Artis scored 32 for Pitt, and his team needed every one of them as the Bulldogs had a shot to tie in the final seconds. For those who want to portray this one as the Panthers playing terribly: Pitt shot a more-than-respectable 45.8%.
- North Carolina Central is still undefeated in the MEAC after an 85-43 win over hapless Florida A&M, which dropped to 0-22. Not too far back of the Eagles is Howard, which has won four straight and is now 6-2 in the conference after an 83-74 win over Maryland-Eastern Shore.
- Texas Southern and Alabama State continue to share the SWAC lead after both moved to 8-1 with heart-stopping victories. TSU edged Alabama A&M in overtime 68-65 while the Hornets edged Prairie View A&M 73-71 as DeMarcus Robinson hit a jumper at the buzzer.
- New Jersey Tech continues to have a more than respectable season. The Highlanders are now 13-10 after a convincing 86-67 win over Hampton, the first of six straight home games for NJIT.
- Weather forced the postponement of Monday’s Iona-Fairfield game, which has been rescheduled for Feb. 10. Also in the MAAC, Siena knocked Rider out of a tie for second by defeating the Broncs 79-72 behind Rob Poole’s 27 points.
- Georgia is going to be without forward Marcus Thornton when it faces Kentucky on Tuesday (7 p.m. EST, ESPNU). Thornton is out due to symptoms from a concussion, and it’s a big loss as he is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 13.5 ppg and 7.3 rpg. Thought the Bulldogs had a chance to give the Wildcats a run in this one, but that task just became a lot tougher.
Indiana at Wisconsin (7 p.m. EST, ESPN) Badgers usually dominate at home, but the Hoosiers are the type of team that just might not be intimidated by playing in Madison.
St. John’s at Butler (7 p.m. EST, FS1), Seton Hall at DePaul (9 p.m. EST, FS1) Another night and two more dogfights in the Big East.
Louisville at Miami (Fla.) Coming off losses to Georgia Tech and Florida State, it would be only natural now for the Hurricanes to win this one.
West Virginia at Oklahoma (8 p.m. EST, ESPN2) The Sooners got a much, much needed comeback win at Oklahoma State on Saturday, and now get a chance to avenge a lop-sided loss to WVU earlier this year.
Northern Iowa at Indiana State, Evansville at Illinois State Beware Panthers, beware. This one has every making of the classic letdown game. The latter game features the two top competition with Indiana State for third in the MVC.
Radford at High Point Not a game that’s going to be on many radars, but this is a battle for first in the Big South and these two are a combined 33-12. The visiting Highlanders have won seven straight while the Panthers have won eight of nine.
Have a super Tuesday.